Editor’s note: This package has been edited to reflect Denise Baker’s correct maiden name.
She didn’t know it at the time, but the long-haired guy on the Harley was going to play a starring role in her life story.
When Denise Baker first met her future husband, she was a teenager bound for Arizona State University. Randy Baker was visiting her dad’s Albuquerque CPA firm to file his taxes. Denise was intrigued – a little to her mother’s chagrin.
“My mom was just like ‘You’re going to college and joining a sorority,'” she recalls. “‘No, no, no. This is not the type (for you).'”
But mom doesn’t always know best.
Denise and Randy crossed paths repeatedly over the next 15 years and, when the timing finally was right, began dating. He won her heart – and ultimately her hand in marriage – with his humor, sunny disposition and a little homemade elk stew. He won over her mom, too.
Denise had expected to take over her dad’s business; she instead joined Randy’s electrical contracting company, where she assumed the role of president and chief financial officer. Together, the duo has steered D.R.B. through good times – the company has done projects in prominent venues such as the Albuquerque International Sunport, the Pit and Winrock – and bad, like this year’s high-profile fraud case against a former employee. (The former employee was convicted, sentenced to 54 months in prison and ordered to pay $2.4 million in restitution, though Baker says it’s only to the tune of $300 a month.)
That ordeal made the Bakers even more eager to pursue a dream they’d shared for years: opening a brewery. They recently launched Rio Bravo Brewing Co. on 2nd Street NW.
“We were going to invest a little more time in us,” she says. “And it’s been the best thing we’ve ever done.”
Besides her work at D.R.B. and the brewery, Denise has several outside pursuits as well, including work in film and TV (she’s produced “The After After Party with Steven Michael Quezada” and had bits of screen time in various locally filmed productions), and helping to market the Red Horse Vineyard Bed & Breakfast that her family launched on the South Valley farm where she grew up.
And this is actually a slower pace for Baker, a natural people person who, until launching the brewery, had also maintained leadership roles with a number of business and community organizations.
“I grew up in a family where my parents were very social. My dad had a CPA firm that, at its height, had like 5,000 clients, so we learned to be social, and entertain and interact with adults, and go talk with other people; you were expected, if there was a party, you got ready and participated, and my parents often had parties with 200, 300 people, so it only comes natural to kind of segue into this type of environment,” she says.
Q: Describe yourself as a teenager.
A: When I went into (my) teens, I was in a public school, I was a straight-A student. I was like the principal’s pet. I was on the basketball team. And then I went to high school, and I was from the South Valley and I went to (Albuquerque) Academy. It was the second year of girls, so not only was the atmosphere different – the boys didn’t really want the girls there – but I was also from the South Valley and there was only one other student even from there … so it was a little awkward. I suddenly went from straight As to having to study a lot. But I got into sports, and I was in drama, and basketball and softball, and things like that. … I drove a pickup truck, so it really added to my mystique because, here I am, South Valley, I’m driving a pickup truck and I’m parked in the Academy parking lot. There weren’t any other pickup trucks there. (laughs)
Q: Does your family go back generations in the South Valley?
A: No, we moved down there when I was about 9. My dad and my mom are from Kansas. My dad was a farm boy, my mom was a city person. They moved here and originally lived next door to Glen Campbell down off of Edith. My mom had sung opera and my dad played harmonica, so they’d go sing with him at the Hitching Post. … They lived down here in a little trailer. And as most executives at that time, you move up, you get the tri-level home up in the Heights and he had got promoted as high as he would with his company, so he decided to go out and start his own CPA firm (in the early 1970s). … This place came up for market for like $21,000 (in the South Valley), like five acres – had a huge adobe home, all the farming equipment, and another little house and a grape arbor, and it was just unbelievable. (My dad) sends my mom out (to see it) and she doesn’t wear glasses. And she thinks it’s lovely because she’s blind as a bat so she’s looking around it. My dad is calling from Chicago and says “Well make them an offer,” so she does. … My dad gets home and they go look at it. … (The owner) has 21 dogs in the master bedroom and the whole front of the house was covered in vines and cobwebs. It was so bad that our maid quit when we moved out there and we lived up in Four Hills with some friends for about a month until the house was clean enough to move into. It was just a disaster, but they loved it because it’s five acres, very private.
Q: What was your first job?
A: I worked for my dad in accounting, but the first real, non-family-related job, I’m embarrassed to say, was McDonald’s. My parents had this philosophy: They never wanted us to work outside the family, because there’s always so many social events (we were expected to attend), and we had horses and cows and pigs and chickens, and all those critters to take care of and 4-H and they wanted us available any time they wanted to vacation or go to Colorado or go somewhere, and it’s hard to work for someone (because of that). … I went to Arizona State … and realized I had absolutely no (job) credentials, no experience, so I became the McDonald’s “store star,” so I was in charge of all the children’s parties. It was kind of fun. I only did it about nine months because I ended up with laryngitis and I was exhausted.
Q: When did you become a partner in D.R.B.?
A: When we first got married, I was still working in (my dad’s) CPA firm. I intended to stay there because I was taking my CPA exam and I was going to take over my dad’s firm. … (But) when I was pregnant – tax season is rough, you work 10-12 hours a day – I told (Randy) “I could quit and take care of the kids, and do the books in your company,” because he had someone doing them for him, and that way I could justify being at home. But the only way to do it is I have to make the same salary, because I was making good money at the time and he goes, “Well, I can’t pay you.” I asked my dad what to do and he says, “Well, women-owned businesses might have a better shot” because I was trying to figure out how to make the company grow, what would differentiate it from other companies. At the time (being owned by a woman) did. I don’t think so much now, but back then it did. Because I could market that. … But, really, it’s Randy’s brains and brawn that kept the business going, and I did the marketing and accounting. So it’s teamwork, similar to doing (the brewery).
Q: What are the advantages of being in business with a spouse?
A: You can take vacations together. You don’t have to talk about work when you get home at night, because you’ve already talked about it. (laughs) I think it’s imperative that you like your spouse as a friend, because some days you’re not going to like each other as a business partner, like when things get really stressful or you’re tired. You’ve got to realize that, “OK, I don’t like you because of business. I’ve got to pull back. I love you always so I’ve got to keep that in mind.” You’ve got to have a sense of humor, because some days it does get hectic. The advantages (are) if you really get along great, it’s great. If you don’t, then it’s not going to work.
Q: What are the challenges?
A: Finding time to discuss personal issues. I’ll just say, “I have to ask you these questions, these personal questions. I know you’re already thinking work.” … (When) the kids were little, it was more challenging. … It’s so tempting when you’re both working in the same business to really let business take over, but if you have kids you’ve got to pull back and say, “Hey, they’re only here for a short time.”
Q: You have big plans for the brewery – where do you see Rio Bravo in five years?
A: We will be distributing throughout the U.S. and to Mexico, because we’re already working on that. We’ll have our canning and bottling line; actually, in five years, we may have to … have bought more additional properties for storage and distribution. Our goal is to have two trucks a week going out, which is lofty, but we have 14,000 square feet and this has a conference room … and a beer garden that holds 300-400 people, a bar that has 69 seats, lots of other additional space. And we’re working with several music groups here. There’s a music group – can’t tell you who yet – but they’re well-known and they’re going to exclusively start performing here in March once a month when they’re in town, and we’re developing a beer for them that bears their name and logo, and they will distribute it across the U.S. wherever they perform. We’re building relationships with local companies and partnering with … people we’ve met along the way (through D.R.B.) that helped us, we’re pulling them in. This whole building was built by friends.
Q: With your work in film and TV, do you have your own IMDb page?
A: Yes I do. It’s not real big, but it’s been fun. It’s something I love dabbling in, but it’s a hard career to do if you want to keep a marriage together because you’re always on the set. (It’s) the time. You’ve got to have a partner who is in the field or doesn’t have a career, I think.
Q: What are your hobbies outside your many jobs?
A: Well, we snow ski, love traveling, children’s books (that) I still intend to write eventually. … I have a rose garden that I love to go to with either a cup of coffee or glass of wine and just prune the roses. I used to play guitar, but my cat bit through my finger. I used to play piano, (but) now I have a screw in there.
Q: What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?
A: (Regarding) my children – that you’ve done a wonderful job with them. I have strangers tell me, “Your kids are so social and outgoing.” And they do random acts of kindness. We were driving into Costco and Kristen, my youngest, saw this older lady pushing her cart up and she goes, “Mom, stop.” She jumped out and went and helped her load it and then got back in the car. … I think compliments of my kids (matter the most) because that shows a little piece of me is living in them.
Q: What are your pet peeves?
A: People who lie or steal. I’d rather someone be honest with me, even if it makes me a little sad or hurt, than to pretend to be my friend and lie. Life’s too short to play games like that.
Q: Do you have any hidden talents?
A: I can dance. Not everyone knows. I was on the Edelweiss am Rio Grande dance troupe for several years. I was in the dance troupe with my parents and my brother, and we danced German and folk dance, and Western and Spanish. A lot of people don’t know I did that because that was pre-children, but I love to dance.
Q: How would you describe yourself in three words?
A: Resilient, optimistic and feisty.